Bulls

Fred Hoiberg hints at more changes on horizon for Bulls lineup

Fred Hoiberg hints at more changes on horizon for Bulls lineup

More changes are on the horizon for the Bulls, still smarting after a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that feels like more than just one on the ledger.

It doesn’t seem like Fred Hoiberg can do much more aside from playing his last two first-round picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis, who both went with the dreaded “DNP-Coach’s Decision” on the scoring sheet Tuesday night as the Bulls coughed up a 21-point lead — the biggest giveaway in the NBA this season.

Valentine looks like he’ll get more of a look, perhaps in place of the struggling Isaiah Canaan, who didn’t play Saturday against Miami and hasn't been much of an offensive factor when he has played in the last week or so, as he’s shooting 13 percent from 3-point range this month.

Valentine played 22 minutes against Portland after playing 25 in the blowout loss to Dallas earlier this month, but hasn’t seen much time since. Even though Rajon Rondo (ankle) is expected to be back, it appears Valentine will get a bit of an extended look.

“We'll continue to work at things as we move forward as far as possibly changing some things up with guys coming off the bench,” Hoiberg said. “We've tried to change our substitution patterns to where we have at least one, more often than not two, starters out there on the floor at all times.”

Second-round pick Paul Zipser, a player who’s seen more time in the D-League than on the floor, will get a look as well. It doesn’t feel quite like desperation but one has to wonder if Hoiberg’s patience with some of his young players is starting to run thin.

“Paul Zipser will get an opportunity at some point from what he has shown,” Hoiberg said. “Even that game he played for Windy City, he showed a lot of promise and has a bright future. We’ll continue to keep those guys ready and hopefully they’ll help us win some games and produce.”

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Valentine hasn’t found his groove since returning from an ankle injury he suffered in the first preseason game, which cost him a lot of time. Also, he seems to struggle finding his way without being a playmaker, which was his specialty at Michigan State.

Here, he would have more value as a shot maker than creator considering he plays more with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Either there’s not much trust in him running the show or they simply don’t need him to at this point.

“Denzel will see more time as we move forward. There’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of it has been based on what he’s doing out here, the amount of time and effort and work he’s putting into it. There will be a time again when Bobby gets that opportunity.”

What the Bulls need is some form of perimeter shooting and even more pressing is the need to be settled when other teams make runs, such as the Timberwolves coming back from a 19-point deficit in the last four minutes of the first half to cut it to a manageable four-point game at the half.

“The biggest thing that I looked at as I watched it a couple times and laid awake thinking about it was just the lead we gave up,” Hoiberg said. “A 21-point lead in your home building, you have to find a way to win those games. That was the focus for me.”

Calling the collapse “inexcusable”, Hoiberg noticed a few other basic tenets being abandoned in the afternoon film session before his team’s back-to-back set against the young and athletic Milwaukee Bucks Thursday and Friday: Terrible transition defense and inconsistent rebounding.

Robin Lopez said the Bulls have shown the foundation of being a good defensive team that rebounds well, but it slipped for a night.

“I think we're a very strong defensive team, honestly,” Lopez said. “We've been successful, we've been very good at that. We've rebounded well, we've defended well, especially in transition we've guarded pretty well. When we give up offensive rebounds, when we let teams get easy buckets off the glass, we're not quite as good.”

And when those things sprout up, it puts Hoiberg in the unenviable position of more shuffling, even though nobody appears ready to step forward with each opportunity.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

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USA TODAY

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

The Boston Celtics have been the surprise of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and after last night's Game 5 win against LeBron James and the Cavs are one game away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

They've done it with some of the most interesting splits in league history for a team that's advanced this far: they're 10-0 at home and  1-6 on the road.

The six road losses are something else, but with the convincing 96-83 victory over Cleveland, the Celtics tied a record held by the 1996 Bulls for the most consecutive postseason home wins in a season.

Boston earned home wins against the Bucks in Round 1 in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. They crushed the heavily favored Sixers in five games, earning home wins in Games 1, 2 and 5 (and their only road win in Game 3). They took the first two games of the series from the Cavaliers at home and then again in Game 5. If they can't close the series in Cleveland they'll have a chance to break the record Sunday in a potential Game 7. If they do close the series in Cleveland their next chance will be in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; Boston will be on the road regardless of whether Houston or Golden State comes out of the West.

Jordan's Bulls won 10 consecutive games during their historic 72-10 season. They swept the Heat in Round 1, winning at home by 17 and 31 points. In the second round they knocked off the Knicks in Games 1 and 2 at the United Center, winning by 7 and 11 points. After the Knicks earned a Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden the Bulls won the final two games of that series, including a 13-point win at home to clinch the series and a fifth straight home win.

The conference finals were no problem for the Bulls at home or on the road. They began their eventual sweep of Orlando with a 38-point shellacking in Game 1 at home. A five-point win in Game 2 gave them their seventh consecutive home win and they wouldn't be back at the United Center until Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

They smoked the Sonics by 17 in Game a 1 and held on for a four-point win in Game 2. Seattle took Games 4 and 5 at their place to avoid being swept, but when the series returned to Chicago the Bulls were back to their winning ways, earning a 12-point win - their 10th consecutive in the postseason - and their fourth NBA title.

Yes, the Bulls lost just three times (half as many as the Celtics) and actually won the title. Boston, of course, has plenty to do before they reach that status, and they'll do so with at least six losses. We're not comparing the two teams. Simply pointing out a record.

And if you're wondering, Steph Curry and the Warriors have simply been too good to get to 10 wins. Last year they swept all three rounds of the West playoffs, giving them six straight home wins. Then they only needed five games to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, with three of those coming at home. So they went 9-0 at Oracle Arena before winning it all. They recently had their streak of 16 consecutive postseason home wins, regardless of year, snapped when the Rockets earned a Game 4 win on Tuesday.